Web business, usability and accessibility requirements

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The analysis phase involves using different marketing research techniques to find out the needs of the business and audience whether it’s a website, mobile site, app or company social page. These needs can then be used to drive the design and content of the website.

Analysis is not a ‘one-off’ exercise, but is likely to be repeated for each iteration of the prototype. Although analysis and design are separate activities, there tends to be considerable overlap between the two phases. In analysis we are seeking the answer the following types of ‘who, what, why, how, when, where’ questions:

  • Who are the key audience for this site?
  • Why should they use the site (what will appeal to them)?
  • What should the content of the site be? Which services will be provided?
  • How will the content of the site be structured (information architecture)?
  • How will navigation around the site occur?
  • What the main marketing outcome we want the site to deliver (registrations, leads, sales)?
  • When and where is the online presence accessed: at home, at work or while mobile?
  • To help answer these questions, web designers commonly use a research-based approach known as user-centred design which uses a range of techniques to ensure the site meets user needs. This often involves ethnographic research used to build the website design or customer personas.

We will now explore the key requirements for an online presence: business requirements and user requirements which comprise usability, accessibility and information needs.

Business requirements

With a focus on user-centred design, these is a risk that business requirements to achieve marketing outcomes may be marginalised. A marketing-led site design is informed by marketing objectives and tactics. A common approach is to base the design on achieving the performance drivers of successful digital marketing and the loyalty drivers. Design will be led by these performance drivers as follows:

  • Customer acquisition – the online value proposition must be clear. Appropriate incentives for customer acquisition and permission marketing must be devised.
  • Customer conversion – the site must engage first-time visitors. Call to action for customer acquisition and retention offers must be prominent with benefits clearly explained. The fulfilment of the offer or purchase must be as simple as possible to avoid attrition during this process.
  • Customer retention – appropriate incentives, content and customer service information to encourage repeat visits and business must be available.
  • Service quality – affected by site navigation, performance availability and responsiveness to enquiries.
  • Branding – the brand offer must be clearly explained and interaction with the brand must be possible.

Marketing-led site design is also known as persuasion marketing.

Usability requirements

Usability is a concept that can be applied to the analysis and design for a range of products which defines how easy they are to use. The British Standard / ISO Standard (1999): Human Centred design processes for interactive systems defines usability as:

the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve a specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction is specified context of use.

You can see how the concept can be readily applied to website design – web visitors often have defined goals such as finding particular information or completing an action such as booking a flight or viewing an account balance.

In Jakob Nielsen’s classic book Designing Web Usability (Nielsen, 2000), he describes usability as follows:

An engineering approach to website design to ensure the user interface of the site is learnable, memorable, error free, efficient and gives user satisfaction. It incorporates testing and evaluation to ensure the best use of navigation and links to access information in the shortest possible time. A companion process to information architecture.

In practice, usability involves two key project activities. Expert reviews are often performed at the beginning of a redesign project as a way of identifying problems with a previous design. Usability testing involves:

  1. Identifying representative users of the site and identifying typical tasks.
  2. Asking them to perform specific tasks such as finding a product or completing an order.
  3. Observing what they do and how they succeed.

For a site to be successful, the user tasks or actions need to be completed:

  • Effectively – web usability specialists measure task completion; for example, only three out of ten visitors to a website may be able to find a telephone number or other piece of information.
  • Efficiently – web usability specialists also measure how long it takes to complete a task on-site, or the number of clicks it takes.

Web accessibility requirements

Web accessibility is another core requirement for websites. It is about allowing all users of a web to interact with it regardless of disabilities they may have, or the web browser or platform they are using to access the site. The visually impaired are the main audience that designing an accessible website can help. However, increased usage of mobile devices also make consideration of accessibility important.

Many countries now have specific accessibility legislation to which website owners are subject. This is often contained within disability and discrimination acts. In the UK, the relevant act is the Disability and Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995. Recent amendments to the DDA make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in the way in which a company recruits and employs people, provides services or provides education. Providing services is the part of the law that applies to website design. Providing accessible websites is a requirement of Part II of the Disability and Discrimination Act published in 1999 and required by law from 2002. In the 2002 code of practice there is a legal requirement for websites to be accessible. This is most important for sites which provide a service, for example, the code of practice gives this example:

An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the Act.

Although there is a moral imperative for accessibility, there is also a business imperative to encourage companies to make their websites accessible. The main arguments in favour of accessibility are:

  • Number of visually impaired people. In many countries there are millions of visually impaired people varying from ‘color blind’ to partially sighted to blind. The number of web users with other disabilities is also significant.
  • Number of users of less popular browsers or variation in screen display resolution. Google Chrome is now the dominant browser, but there are less well-known browsers which have a loyal following among the visually impaired (e.g. screen readers and Lynx, a text-only browser) and early adopters (e.g. Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Opera). If website does not display well in these browsers, then they may lose these audiences.
  • More visitors from natural listings of search engines. Many of the techniques used to make sites more usable also assist in search engine optimisation. For example, clearer navigation, text alternatives for images and site maps can all help improve a site’s position in the search engine rankings.
  • Legal requirements. In many countries it is a legal requirement to make website accessible. For example, the UK has a Disability Discrimination Act that requires this.

Guidelines for creating accessible websites are produced by the governments of different countries and non-government organisations such as charities, Internet standards organisations, such as the World Wide Web Consortium have been active in promoting guidelines for web accessibility through the Website Accessibility Initiative. This describes common accessibility problems such as:

Images without alternative text; lack of alternative text for imagemap hot-spots, misleading use of structural elements on pages; uncaptioned audio or undescribed video, lack of alternative information for users who cannot access frames or scripts; tables that are difficult to decipher when linearised; or sites with poor colour contrast.

A checklist for accessibility compliance for website design and coding using HTML is available from World Wide Web Consortium.

Chaffey, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, F., 2012. Digital marketing: strategy, implementation and practice (Vol. 5). Harlow: Pearson.

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